The Apostle Paul says that love is the “more excellent way.” But we have allowed the word “love” to be dumbed down to little more than “feelings of desire.” But the Faith does not allow us to reduce “love” to anything less than God Himself. St. John insists that “God is love.” With that standard, we Orthodox have no room to allow for the reduction of love to that which enslaves people created in God’s image and set free by His death and resurrection. To call undisciplined passions “love” is to become an unbeliever.
Look at our lesson today in 1 Corinthians 12:27-31; 13:1-8:
Brethren, you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, then healers, helpers, administrators, speakers in various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? But earnestly desire the higher gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way. If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.
This “more excellent way” is the key to understanding just how a group of persons can be molded into the Church, the Body of Christ that isn’t divided by death, time, history, personal preferences, or any mundane “enemy.” Christ has already overcome death, destroying this “enemy” by His resurrection and His continued Presence in His Church through the Person of the Holy Spirit. It is IN the Church that we discover how to actually live an excellent life connected to His eternal Life!
First, this “more excellent way” is a way that avoids the weakness of comparing ourselves to others. Not everyone has the same gifting, and that’s OK. A Body needs all kinds of “abilities” to function well. When we avoid comparing ourselves and our abilities to others, we are set free from both arrogance and despondency over our perceived strengths and weaknesses. We need each other to be complete and whole as the Body of Christ.
Next, St. Paul reveals why this “more excellent way” is so “excellent.” He declares that love is the key to making all this unity and cooperation possible. But not some syrupy, sentimental view of Love. No, a love that is robust, serious, overwhelming to circumstances, and enduring. This love is “patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.” (1 Corinthians 13:1-8)
Today, are you trapped in the dead-end situation of comparing yourself to another – either good or bad? It is a deficiency of love. Are you struggling with getting along with others in the Church? It is a deficiency of Love. Are you fighting to discover your own purpose in the Body of Christ? Now that may be a challenge of both obedience or even finally admitting you need to be a student of yourself and your faith to discover your gifts. The “more excellent way” invites you and me to an excellent life IN the Church, the Lord’s Body, precisely because He is the excellent human life and all the Faith is designed to “school” us on how to embrace and be embraced by this Purposeful Orthodoxy, this “more excellent way!
P.S. Dear Lord, You made me a free, unique, and unrepeatable person that uniquely incarnates the common human nature. Thinking about this makes me wonder at the many ways I stumble in actually knowing Your gifts that You’ve given me, and how many times I foolishly compare myself to others. Please help me use the moments of my life to so know You and get close to you so that Your grace and light reveal me to me! And forgive me for comparing myself to others. Amen.